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Authors: Robert Sheckley

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BOOK: Soma Blues
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Bower let that pass. “The French police seem to have no idea who did it. Do you?”

“Not a clue. It’s not my concern, anyhow.”

“I don’t trust the French,” Timothy said. “Especially not in a matter concerning the murder of a gay foreigner.”

Hob shrugged. He didn’t feel very sympathetic.

“Stanley and I were never close,” Timothy said. “I’m regular army. You know how the British army is. Among career officers it’s like a club. Gays definitely need not apply. Don’t get me wrong. I am not myself prejudiced. I wasn’t personally ashamed of Stanley, but I’ll be frank to tell you I didn’t want him around. Not with the sort of friends I’ve got. Damned good fellows, don’t get me wrong, but for them a homosexual man is a joke. And Stanley was not discreet in his behavior. No reason he should be, I suppose. In a perverse sort of way it shows the family training. The pater taught us never to be ashamed. But none of us ever thought we’d have a homosexual in the family.”

Don’t be ashamed of yourself unless you have something to be ashamed of, was the way Hob read that one.

“Still, there it is. I feel badly about it. I rather liked Stanley, though I detested his way of life. And Stanley was my brother. I don’t want to simply see this thing pushed under the rug. I believe it’s common knowledge the French police don’t bother much with cases like this.”

“Don’t kid yourself,” Hob said. “The French police are damned good, and they don’t push any kind of murder under the rug.”

“But what can they do? From what Fauchon told me, this doesn’t appear to be a case of local gay bashing. Stanley might have been killed by someone from Ibiza. If that’s so, whoever it was is back there by now. Don’t you agree?”

“It does look like someone set Stanley up.”

“It’s clear to me this thing probably has international ramifications. But this police inspector, this Fauchon, he’s not going to fly down to your island and try to run it down, is he?”

“Of course not,” Hob said. “As yet there’s no reason to. But you can be sure he’ll make enquiries.”

“Yes, I suppose he will. And the Spanish police will say we’ll look into it, mañana, and if anyone happens to wander into the station house and confesses to it, we’ll be happy to take him into custody, as long as it’s not siesta time. No, it’s simply not good enough. I want more done than that.”

“What is it you want done?” Hob asked.

“You’re a private detective. I want you to find his killer.”

“All right, let’s talk about it,” Hob said. “First of all, given what little we know now, it might not be possible. Second, if by some stroke of luck I do find out who did it, that doesn’t mean I can prove it. What I’m saying is, even if I can find out who killed Stanley, an arrest may not be possible.”

“Well, I’m sure you’ll do your best,” Timothy said. “I believe I understand the position. It may be a forlorn hope. But I feel one should do something.”

“All right,” Hob said.

Timothy took out his checkbook and a fountain pen and wrote Hob a check for five hundred pounds.

“I’m by no means a wealthy man,” Timothy said. “That’s what I can afford. There won’t be any more. I’m sure you’ll do your best on it.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Hob said. “Where shall I send my reports? And do you want them telephoned as well as written?”

“I don’t want any reports,” Timothy said. Hob could see that Timothy had made up his mind how to handle this probably on the flight over from London. “If and when you’ve brought his murderer to book, perhaps you’d be good enough to write me care of my club.” He gave Hob a card. “I’d appreciate your not putting a return address on the envelope. In my position, one must avoid scandal at all costs.”

Hob didn’t like it, but he accepted it. One of the jobs of a private detective is to accept money from people who are trying to buy off their guilt at not doing something themselves. But from a detective’s point of view, it was a legitimate case.

 

 

 

8

 

 

The next day, Hob went to the Café Argent in the Square Sainte-Gabrielle. Usually Hob would have taken Nigel, his chief operative, but Nigel was away on some scheme or another in England. With Nigel absent, Hob brought his other Paris operative Jean-Claude, a skinny little fellow in his early thirties, with brilliantined black hair and a hairline mustache. Jean-Claude looked louche, dangerous, and unpleasant, as always. Today he wore his striped Apaches-of-Paris shirt and tight black pants.

When a waiter came over to take their orders, Hob asked to see the proprietor. The proprietor came over, a short, square, balding man presenting a somewhat harrassed bonhomie.

“I was here last night,” Hob said. “I am helping the French police in their investigations.”

“Yes, m’sieu.”

“This is my associate, Jean-Claude.”

The proprietor made a slight bow. Jean-Claude gave him the slitted eye.

“We seek to find out more about the man who sat with the deceased.”

The proprietor made an expressive gesture with his hands. “As I told the inspector, I served the man myself. I noted nothing about him except what I have already said.”

“I realize that,” Hob said. “But it occurred to me that it is slightly unusual for the proprieter to take orders when he has waiters.”

“Nothing unusual about it,” the proprietor said. “Marcel had just gone off duty, so I filled and served the order myself.”

“But did Marcel take the order?”

“Of course. He wrote it up and gave me the slip, and then his time was finished, and he took off his apron and left. Young men these days are all for the union rules as long as they are in their favor.”

“You didn’t mention this to Inspector Fauchon.”

“It slipped my mind in the excitement of the moment. Anyhow, what need? I served the order, and I have already stated what I saw—which was nothing.”

“Just so. But perhaps you would oblige us by asking Marcel to come to our table for a few questions. He might have seen something that slipped your attention.”

The proprietor shrugged, a gesture that said, “That’ll be the day!” But he went to his counter and called for a young waiter who was serving on the far side of the square.

Marcel was young, slim, blond, good-looking. Reminded Hob of a young Jean-Pierre Aumont. And yes, damned if the fellow didn’t have his hair marcelled. Sometimes life was very strange, indeed.

“Yes, I took the order. But there was nothing amiss. They were talking together quite pleasantly. And as you know, I was not here when the accident took place.”

“What were they talking about?” Hob asked.

Marcel pulled himself up to his full height. “I do not eavesdrop on the customers, m’sieu.”

Then Jean-Claude stepped in. “Look here,
mon vieux
, I’m not going to dance around the tables with you. You are a waiter,
n’est-ce pas?
That makes you automatically one of the nosy class. I am going to require that you tell me everything you overheard. If not, I am going to come back and talk to you again, and this time I’ll bring several friends along. Not friends like my colleague Hob, here, who is a gentleman. Friends who get results. My boy, we’ll have you babbling conversations you never even imagined took place. Why not save all of us a lot of trouble and tell us now?”

Hob winced but said nothing. He did not approve of Jean-Claude’s methods, which he considered crude in the extreme. But he had to admit that they frequently got results. It was amazing how many people could be intimidated.

“M’sieu does not have to threaten,” Marcel said. “I repeat, I am not a snoop. Anyhow, their talk was conducted in English and Spanish: two languages whose meanings I am not privy to.”

“You are trying my patience,” Jean-Claude said. “You know something, damn it. I can tell by your stupid shifty eyes and the way you are shifting from one foot to another. No more evasions! For the last time, tell us something we can use.”

“It isn’t much,” Marcel said, “but I can tell you about the map.”

“Map? What map? The patron didn’t mention a map.”

“They must have put it away before he came out to serve them.”

“Well, what about the map?”

“They were pointing to it and laughing. M’sieu, I truly did not understand their words. But their manner was that of men exchanging reminiscences and pointing to places where this and this happened.”

“What kind of map was it?”

“A gas station map. A Spanish one.”

“What was it a map of?”

“I did not see. Someplace in Spain, I presume.”

“That’s very good,” Jean-Claude said. “Now you’ve begun, don’t stop now. What else?”

“Nothing else, m’sieu.”

“There has to be something else. What did this man look like?”

“He sat well back in the shadow. But I noticed that his face was very tan. He was middle-aged, I would say. And he wore an emerald ring.”

“You’re sure it was an emerald?”

“It could have been green glass, for all I know,” Marcel said. “But it was cut brilliant fashion. That’s a lot of work to go to for a piece of glass.”

“Was there anything else about his face?”

“Nothing, m’sieu.”

“Now put your attention once again to their words. Can you remember anything at all?”

“Just ‘
à votre santé
.’ They said that in French. Toasting each other. That’s why I remember it.”

“Which one said it?”

“The stranger. The one who was not killed.”

“And the other one—the victim—what did he say?”

“He said,’ And the same to you, Señor.’ ”

“Señor what?”

“I do not know. He made a strange gargling sort of sound. It may have been the Spanish
r
, m’sieu. But what came before it, and what after, I don’t know. And that is all, m’sieu, all, all!”

“You have done well,” Jean-Claude said, patting the waiter on the cheek. “Better than you expected, eh? Come, Hob, shall we be on our way? There’s nothing further to be learned here.”

“So what did all that add up to?” Jean-Claude asked after they had left.

“A dark-faced or tanned man. One whose native tongue is presumably not French, but is likely either English or Spanish. And who perhaps has a name which contained a double Spanish
r.

“Not much,” Jean-Claude said.

“But something. Maybe I can find out more on Ibiza.”

“Would you like me to accompany you? Jean-Claude asked.

“Nothing would suit me better. But you’d have to pay your own ticket and expenses. The agency is sadly short of funds.”

“Then I shall stay here in Paris, the center of the world. I was only trying to help.”

“You are too kind,” Hob said.

 

 

 

9

 

 

Fauchon had shown Hob Stanley’s address book. “A courtesy to a colleague,” he’d said in an ironic voice. The only name that had meant anything to Hob was that of Hervé Vilmorin, a young French ballet dancer who divided his time between Paris and Ibiza. Fauchon had already questioned Hervé, but Hob was working on Stanley’s case now on behalf of Timothy Bower, and so decided his own interview would be in order. Besides, Fauchon wouldn’t let him see his interview notes.

Hervé agreed reluctantly to see Hob at his apartment on the rue des Pères, which he shared with several other dancers. Hob went there in the late morning. Hervé was young, very slender, and muscular, his light brown hair modeled into a cut similar to that of Nijinsky in
L’Après-midi d’un faune.
He wore tight, well-cut blue jeans that showed off the development of his thighs and a light-blue cashmere sweater with the sleeves pushed up to display his hairless brown arms.

“I’ve already told Inspector Fauchon everything I know,” Hervé said.

Hob shook his head. “Permit me to make a correction. You told Fauchon everything you thought was safe to say. You know me, Hervé. I’m not going to tell on you. Stanley was selling drugs, wasn’t he?”

“Not to me,” Hervé said. “I don’t buy drugs. People give them to me.”

“I wasn’t accusing you of spending your own money,” Hob said. “But you’ve got a lot of friends who are users.”

“I wouldn’t know anything about that,” Hervé said.

“Come on, Hervé! You and I have tripped together. At the Johnstone party. You came with Elmyr de Hory, remember?”

Hervé had been trying to look stern. Now he couldn’t help a smile coming across his chiseled lips. “That was quite a good evening, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, and the California windowpane was pretty good, too. Look, I’m not trying to trap you into anything. I want to know why Stanley got killed. I’m working for his brother. I won’t pass on anything you tell me. So tell me, Hervé.”

Hervé thought for a few seconds, then decided that Hob was to be trusted.

“He was selling a new drug. Soma, he said it was called. He was quite excited about it. He said it was expensive but absolutely the best trip going. I gave him a few names. You know Paris people. Interested in the newest novelty.”

BOOK: Soma Blues
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